Government Revives Construction Ban in Parts of Damascus Suburb

Months after  the city of Zamalka in East Ghouta was recaptured in March 2018, regime forces bulldozed hundreds of buildings for supposedly violating the master plan.

A former official in Zamalka’s local council told The Syria Report that based on Zamalka’s 2007 zoning plans, the Damascus Countryside governorate prohibited construction in two areas. One was on either side of the Southern Ring (which includes the Nisbet Hilleh area), and the other was in the zone surrounding the high-voltage electrical lines east of the city. This construction ban greatly reduced the surface area of Zamalka, rather than expanding the zoning plans to cater for a massive population influx.

Zamalka witnessed massive urbanisation from the 1970s, with its population reaching 200,000 in 2011 according to local estimates. Only 16,500 of those residents were originally from Zamalka, while the rest had moved there because of the city’s proximity to Damascus and cheap real estate. Zamalka is just east of Damascus proper, adjacent to the Damascus neighbourhoods of Jobar and Qaboun. The city is considered the eastern gateway to Damascus.

Zamalka’s local council executive office eventually succeeded in cancelling the construction ban in the Southern Ring area due to pressure from residents, but the ban remained in place around the electrical lines. Accordingly, the local council granted construction permits to landowners in Nisbet Hilleh. The length of the area adjacent to the  Southern Ring is three kilometres, with a width of 30 metres on either side.

In 2018, regime forces demolished all buildings, both legally and illegally constructed, in both areas.

According to the former local council official, the buildings bulldozed on either side of the Southern Ring were removed under Law No. 10 of 2018. The Syria Report was unable to independently confirm whether new zoning plans or a new development zone had been issued for Zamalka, or whether there was a decree to once again consider the Nisbet Hilleh area as part of a no-construction zone.

Since late 2020, people have been actively buying and selling real estate in Zamalka. Some brokers have contacted real estate owners, offering themselves as middlemen to sell their properties at low prices to unknown parties.

Meanwhile, in the Al-Bustan neighbourhood in southern Zamalka security forces are still preventing residents from returning to their homes on the pretext that it is a military zone. Security services claim that the neighbourhood contains entrances to tunnels that opposition fighters used to store weapons and ammunition, despite the fact regime forces have yet to find such weapons three years since retaking the city.

Security forces also evacuated the entire Martyrs Cemetery neighbourhood of residents, declaring it a military zone. The cemetery contains the remains of victims of the regime’s sarin gas attack on Zamalka on August 23, 2013. The graves were exhumed, and the bodies removed after regime forces took control of the city.

Several hundred original residents remain in Zamalka after 700 families were forcibly displaced to northern Syria and 2,500 were documented killed during the war. The regime’s Counterterrorism Court has issued regulations that include decrees confiscating the properties of many Zamalka activists as well as many residents who were displaced to northern Syria. They are now unable to dispose of their properties because they cannot obtain the necessary security approval.